A newly crowned champion and one of the most decorated titlists in the sport defend their respective titles this Saturday (Dec. 11, 2021) when Charles Oliveira and Amanda Nunes square off with dangerous challengers Dustin Poirier and Julianna Pena atop UFC 269. T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, will also host a brutal Welterweight battle between Geoff Neal an Santiago Ponzinibbio, plus Cody Garbrandt vs. Kai Kara-France and an intriguing pay-per-view (PPV) opener between Sean O’Malley and the dangerous Raulian Paiva.
ESPN hosts the last four “Prelims” undercard bouts (check out the first batch here), which we’ve broken down for you below. Take a gander:
145 lbs.: Josh Emmett vs. Dan Ige
Josh Emmett (16-2) started his UFC career as a Lightweight, defeating Jon Tuck and Scott Holtzman before dropping a split decision to Des Green. His drop to 145 pounds has resulted in a 5-1 run and two post-fight bonuses for his stoppage of Mirsad Bektic and unreal war with Shane Burgos.
This marks his first fight in almost 18 months.
Dan Ige (15-4) blasted his way into a main event slot with six consecutive victories, though Calvin Kattar proved more than he could handle over 25 minutes. “50k” quickly got another opportunity thanks to a bonus-winning, 22-second knockout of Gavin Tucker, but once again fell short in a battle with Chan Sung Jung.
His nine finishes are split 5/4 between submissions and knockouts.
With all due respect to Ige, Emmett as his best is far more than “50k” can handle. Emmett’s punching power far outstrips Ige’s and he’s more than skilled enough to actually bring that concussive force to bear. Ige isn’t likely to bring his solid top game to bear, either, as he’s struggled to consistently hit takedowns against higher-level competition.
The big question, then, is how well the 36-year-old Emmett can execute after the second-longest layoff of his professional career. If there’s any leftover rust, Ige is hard-nosed and persistent enough to take advantage of it. Still, we’ve seen Emmett come back strong before, so expect him to blast the iron-tough Ige with enough bombs to sway the judges.
Prediction: Emmett via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Pedro Munhoz vs. Dominick Cruz
Pedro Munhoz (19-6) looked poised to finally break into the Bantamweight elite with a torrid 7-1 run, capped off by a first-round knockout of Cody Garbrandt. “Young Punisher” is just 1-3 since, most recently dropping a unanimous decision to Jose Aldo in Aug. 2021.
His 13 professional finishes include nine submissions.
About 3.5 years after losing his Bantamweight title to Cody Garbrandt, Dominick Cruz (23-3) returned to the cage to challenge new incumbent Henry Cejudo, who handed “The Dominator” his first-ever technical knockout defeat. Ten months later, he took on another division standout in Casey Kenney, edging out a narrow decision for his first victory since 2016.
He is the taller of the two by two inches and sports a 3.5-inch reach advantage.
Munhoz has numerous technical shortcomings that prevent him from fully realizing his considerable potential, but his inability to cut off the cage may be the most significant. Despite possessing low kicks that can disable opponents with alarming speed, he struggled to slow down either Frankie Edgar or Aljamain Sterling as they pot-shotted him at range or darted in and out. He chopped down Jimmie Rivera, sure, but Rivera was content to slug it out in the pocket. Cruz is far closer to Sterling in terms of his length and preferred range, meaning as long as “The Dominator’s” legs are still there, Munhoz will be fruitlessly chasing him all night.
Cruz’s joints are made of tissue paper, of course, and it wouldn’t be too terribly surprising to see Munhoz compromise him with just one or two clean shots. Still, the persistent inability of “Young Punisher” to make the necessary adjustments to his footwork have me thinking that Cruz will run circles around him for a wide decision win.
Prediction: Cruz via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Augusto Sakai vs. Tai Tuivasa
Augusto Sakai (15-3-1) — a “Contender Series: Brazil” graduate — started his UFC career with four consecutive wins, among them a violent 59-second knockout of Marcin Tybura in Vancouver. His efforts earned him two consecutive main event slots, though he fell short in both against Alistair Overeem and Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
He sports a one-inch height advantage and a two-inch reach advantage in this match up.
Tai Tuivasa (13-3) found his once-promising UFC career on shaky legs after three straight defeats, including a highly underwhelming submission loss to Sergey Spivak. After one year on the sidelines, “Bam Bam” returned to form with three consecutive first-round finishes, none more satisfying than his comeback wipeout of Greg Hardy in July 2021.
All but one of his professional wins have come by knockout.
Even acknowledging that Sakai’s recent struggles came against much, much better opposition than Tuivasa’s recent successes, it’s hard not to be disappointed in the Brazilian’s efforts. His wins over Andrei Arlovski and Blagoy Ivanov were more than a little controversial, and those stoppage losses to Overeem and Rozenstruik suggest that one of his best assets, his chin, may be starting to fail him.
That’s more than a slight issue against the much faster Tuivasa, especially considering Sakai’s inability to stay off the fence against Rozenstruik. It remains to be seen just how much Tuivasa has actually improved since that skid, but I do like his chances here. Expect them to trade leg kicks for a while until Tuivasa bullies him into the side of the cage and takes him apart up close.
Prediction: Tuivasa via first round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Jordan Wright vs. Bruno Silva
Two years after a loss-turned “No Contest” on “Contender Series,” Jordan Wright (12-1) entered UFC’s win column with a 91-second finish of Ike Villanueva. Though he failed to overcome Joaquim Buckley’s onslaught his second time out, he returned to form by blitzing Jamie Pickett in 64 seconds.
All of his wins have come inside the distance, seven of them via knockout.
A dominant, title-winning run in M-1 earned “The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): Brazil” veteran, Bruno Silva (21-6), a UFC opportunity, but a failed drug test delayed it by 2.5 years. He’s since made up for lost time with impressive finishes of Wellington Turman and Andrew Sanchez during his 2021 campaign.
He gives up two inches of height and three inches of reach.
I can definitely understand UFC brass wanting to play it safe with Silva, whose grappling deficiencies were on full display against Sanchez, but feeding the always-entertaining Wright to him just seems cruel. Silva’s got a significant edge in one-shot power and an even larger one in durability, and Wright’s superior striking technique isn’t nearly enough to compensate.
Without the wrestling to keep Silva uncomfortable, the craft to force and win a technical kickboxing match, or the firepower to keep Silva honest, Wright’s in for a bruising. In the end, Silva bullies him to the fence and tears apart his head and midsection until the referee intervenes.
Prediction: Silva via second round technical knockout
We only have two UFC events left this year, but it’s hard to be sad when this is one of them. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2021: 174-88-2 (2 NC)
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 269 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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